How Did the Game of Basketball Change?

High angle view of basketball goal and ball

The game of basketball has worldwide appeal. It requires speed, athleticism, skill and the ability to stay calm in the most hectic moments of the game. Basketball has undergone many changes since James Naismith invented the game to give his students something to do when the cold weather prevented them from playing sports outside.

Early Years

In 1891, Naismith, a teacher at Springfield College in Massachusetts, invented basketball. The idea behind Naismith's game was to maneuver a soccer ball by dribbling it up the court and then passing it to an open teammate who would attempt to shoot the ball into a peach basket. It was a gentle game that did not involve physical contact.

Slowdown Game

High school and college teams started to play basketball. As the game became more physical, referees would call fouls when a player was hit while shooting. A basket made during the course of the game was worth two points and a free throw was worth one point. Teams would work the ball around the court to find a good shot. Possessions with five or more passes were common. Low-scoring games were common, since there was no limit how long a team could hold the ball before shooting. Teams that could build an eight- or 10-point lead often held the ball for minutes at a time to prevent an opponent from mounting a comeback. This strategy of freezing the ball and going into a stall was effective but boring for spectators.

Shot Clock

The National Basketball Association introduced the shot clock in 1954. Each team had 24 seconds to get off a shot. If it did not, the other team gained possession of the ball. This increased the pace of the game dramatically and changed the game. Instead of looking for players who could pass the ball and launch deep shots from the outside, players needed to run with speed, jump high and get in close to the basket and score. This led to high-scoring, run-and-gun fast-break basketball that was entertaining to the fans. The best team in the 1950s and 1960s was the Boston Celtics, who used their fast-break style to outrun opponents and also played aggressive defense to create steals and turnovers.

Three-Point Shooting

In 1967, the American Basketball Association began play. The league tried to compete with the NBA and while it struggled to survive financially, it added 3-point shooting as a way of scoring. Players who shot the ball from beyond an arc painted on the floor 23 feet from the rim would get credit for three points. If the player was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer, the shooter would get three free throws. The NBA eventually absorbed four ABA teams and added the 3-point shot. The game still featured fast-paced play but also gave new significance to outside shooting talent.